Oral health crisis in care homes as residents miss out on vital treatment

Monday, 24th June 2019, 1:18 pm
Updated Monday, 24th June 2019, 3:26 pm

The teeth of elderly and disabled people living in care homes are being left to rot, according to dentists.

A warning has been issued following a report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which slammed care homes for neglecting the oral health of their residents.

100 care homes in England were inspected by the regulator after the British Dental Association (BDA) highlighted a number of cases of neglect.

Neglecting the most vulnerable

Some of the worst cases included a blind, 93-year-old woman with dementia who had to have her dentures surgically removed. They had been left in so long that her gums had grown around them.

And another woman with disabilities was found to have severe amounts of decay and gum disease, the BBC reported. Her poor oral health was only spotted because she had stopped eating.

The CQC is now calling for dental health to be treated in the same way as mental and physical health, and has suggested improved guidance for dentists on how to treat residents.

This includes mandatory training for staff, as well as routine check-ups as part of care plans at residential homes.

Charlotte Waite, from the BDA’s England Community Dental Services Committee, told the Press Association: “This welcome report shines a light on services that are failing some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Residents unable to eat or communicate

“There are residents left unable to eat, drink and communicate, as an overstretched NHS struggles to provide the care they need.

“We require nothing short of a revolution in the approach to dentistry in residential homes.

“Oral health can no longer remain the missing piece when it comes to care planning and budgets.”

The CQC report blamed difficulty accessing dentists, as well as a lack of support provided by care home staff, as key reasons for the oral health crisis.

It found that 47 per cent of the 100 care homes featured in the study did not train their staff in oral health care.

73 per cent of residents’ care plans did not cover oral health, according to the report.

And one in six care homes said that residents’ oral health was not assessed on admission, while a third said they sometimes struggled to access dental health care for their residents when it was needed.

Lack of services

This was due to the lack of specialist services that travelled out to the care homes rather than expected patients to visit clinics.

Statistics uncovered by the BDA found that only one or two per cent of the UK population which is classed as ‘severely limited’ - eight per cent of the population as a whole - had any access to these specialist services.

Kate Terroni, chief inspector for adult social care at the CQC, said that oral health needed to stop being treated as an afterthought, as it could have an impact on a person’s eating, confidence and whether they were in pain.